Tonight’s episode of “Law & Order SVU” really hit home..and then made me angry.
SVU” presented the story of a TV news anchorwoman who is raped by her camera man, and then impregnated. The show is two parts 1) the criminal trial where the cameraman is found not guilty of rape but guilty of stalking (that makes no sense?!?) and 2) the custody battle where the rapist cameraman seeks sole custody of Theo, the child he fathered (who is just a newborn when the custody battle begins and ends–this is so unrealistic, the average custody battle can extend for years, up until the child ages out of the system).
The story focused on comments made in the criminal trial of this portion that the victim was not “legitimately raped” — obviously drawing from the Todd Akin scandal. But the real story, or perhaps a part 2 episode, should have been on the ensuing trauma and injustice the victim would have experienced in family court. Happy endings like what was portrayed on “SVU” are almost unheard of–there is so much corruption and abuse in family court that usually the abuser wins sole custody, and the mom is pushed out of the child’s life entirely. “SVU” should have shown the truth–what it is like for the average abused/raped women in family court--instead of perpetuating a fairytale. SVU could have been a powerful agent to spotlight systematic failures in family court, instead it almost obliterates the very real crisis that exists.
The family custody battle within the episode, includes a short scene that touched on unfairness in the court. The mom wins sole custody but then is forced to bring the child to a 2 hour supervised visit every Saturday with the rapist. The show ends with the mom & child jetting off to parts unknown so that the baby would not have to endure a supervised visit with the rapist father, and they can be free to live a normal life.
The problem with “SVU” is that they totally avoids the systematic failures, corruption and legal abuse that really is happening in family courts all across America, and the worlds. Fit, loving moms who have been raped/abused by their ex partners are losing custody of vulnerable children to the men who abused them, and those children. These moms expend every last ounce of their physical stamina, mental energy, financial resources..everything they have..in Court fighting to protect their children. Many go to court without legal representation because they cannot afford an attorney. These moms have to face their abuser not only on the witness stand but toe to toe in court. These Moms have to “prove” they really were abused to judges, psychologist, mediators, and Guardian ad Litems.. they are judged, their story is picked apart, they are told to take parenting or divorce classes to “better communicate” with the abuser…they are re-traumatized when the Court that is supposed to protect them, and their children, utterly fails. Unfortunately, there is no escape for these moms and their children…they are trapped in a system where their children are forcibly taken, and placed into a dangerous & dysfunctional environment.
The episode featured a heated family court custody battle, where a rapist sought full custody of the child fathered from the rape. The harrowing scenes of the victim being emotionally battered on the witness stand, and told she is “crazy” and “unfit” were true to life for most abused women in family court. The fallacy was that this mother so easily won sole custody, and the abuser was granted a 2 hour supervised visit on Saturday. The reality is that the abuser probably would have won joint legal custody, and the 2 hour supervised visit would increase to unsupervised visits. A Guardian ad Litem would be appointed, and the mom would likely lose control over decision regarding her child’s safety and well-being, she would be forced to submit to another powerful authority domineering her life. It would be like the abuse is continuing, only through the Court system.
The reality is that abusers often label their ex partner as “crazy”, “unfit”, a “malicious mom” or suffering from “parental alienation syndrome” to detract from the real allegations of abuse, and create so much confusion that the mom is no longer believed. The abuser often will portray himself as the victim. The abuser may state the proof of how “crazy” this mom is her efforts to protect her child from abuse by reporting concerns, or vocalizing the need for the child to be kept from the abuser. The mom may be forced into unnecessary psychiatric treatment, and threatened that if she does not comply she will lose custody or not be able to see her child. The mom may lose custody or be placed into supervised visitation (while the abuser is free to do whatever he wants!). The mom may be stripped of her parental rights. Or forced to recant her story. The mom may lose all of her material belongings–house, car, assets, etc–trying to escape abuse or trying to afford a lengthy legal battle. The mom will have to watch helplessly as her children are abused, endangered and put into at risk situations by judicial order. If she refuses, the mom may be jailed, sanctioned or lose custody entirely.
The other problem with this episode is that the Judge was so easily on the mother’s side and only granted the rapist a supervised visit “because I have to”. The reality is that Family Court judges, mediators, psychologists and Guardian ad Litems are often working together in granting abusers custody of the children they have harmed. A mom with no legal resources, no connections in the court is viewed as suspect if she asks questions of the Court or voices concerns that she is not being treated fairly. Most judges will not rule against other judges, and most court officers will not differ from the opinion of fellow court officers. So if you are ruled against once, things will only get worse. There is no system of checks and balances in family court, and no independent means to hold judges & court officers responsible for actions & choices that hurt women and children. Abuse allegations should be handled as a criminal matter, not subject to the whim of court officers, who operate in gray areas or openly break the law. Abuse victims are often bullied into silence, or told if they speak up that they will lose custody/parenting time. Some even have gag orders placed on them.
As a survivor of domestic violence, and a woman who has been violated in the worst possible way…to have her years of life stolen by abuse, and then her children stolen by family court, I was so disappointed that this episode of “SVU” did not live up to its potential. I urge the show creators to take another look at injustice in family court. Take a look at the cases of bias, corruption in family court. At the alarming rate at which abusers win custody.. hear the cries of the mothers & their children…read the stories of those who lost their lives because family court failed to protect them.. and then please, please consider doing another show to tell our story.
— Emily Court
NBC “Law & Order SVU” videos: http://www.nbc.com/law-and-order-special-victims-unit/video/
“Law & Order: SVU’ Plot Spawned From Todd Akin Story” by The Deadline Team. 3/26/2013. http://www.deadline.com/2013/03/law-order-svu-plot-spawned-from-todd-akin-story
(IMPORTANT: The Deadline Team has a comment box to leave your thoughts, please visit this page & do so! You are giving voice to the silenced and afraid victims of family court abuse. Thank you <3)